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For Immediate Release: July 19, 2010
Contact: CDC Division of Media Relations
(404) 639-3286

Bad Cholesterol Common, But Screening Rates Low Among Young Adults

Less than half of young adults don't get cholesterol screening even though up to a quarter of them have elevated cholesterol, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rate of elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), commonly known as bad cholesterol, among young adults ranges from 7 percent to 26 percent, the study says. However, the screening rate among this age group is less than 50 percent, regardless of the number of individual risk factors, it says.

The report, "Prevalence of Coronary Heart disease Risk Factors and Screening for High Cholesterol Levels Among Young Adults, United States, 1999–2006," is in the July-August 2010 issue Annals of Family Medicine.

Preventive guidelines for cholesterol screening among young adults differ, but experts agree on the need to screen young adults who are at increased risk of coronary heart disease. The researchers say the report identifies the need to improve screening for and management of high LDL-C among young adults. Elevated LDL-C is a leading cause of heart disease.

Approximately 55 percent of American young adults (men aged 20 to 35 years; women aged 20 to 45 years) have at least one risk factor for coronary heart disease, such as high blood pressure, smoking, family history or obesity, according to the CDC study.

"What's surprising and, quite frankly, rather concerning, is that we are doing such a poor job of identifying young adults in America who have elevated LDL-C, " said Dr. Elena Kuklina, a nutritional epidemiologist with the CDC Division for Heart disease and Stroke Prevention and lead author of the study. "Young men and women experience a high burden of risk factors for heart disease, the nation's leading cause of mortality."

The CDC study found elevated LDL-C levels in 7 percent of young adults with no other risk factors, 12 percent with one other risk factor, and 26 percent with two or more other risk factors. LDL-C is a common risk factor for coronary heart disease, one that can be managed with lifestyle changes or treated with medication if needed, once identified.

The study examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which explores the health and nutritional status of about 6,000 participants every year. Researchers analyzed results for 2,587 young adults. Elevated LDL-C was defined as levels higher than the goal specific for each heart disease risk category outlined in the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines.

For more information about cholesterol and heart disease, please call 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention's Web site at www.cdc.gov/cholesterol.

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